Tag Archives: COMTA

I’m in Pain

Yes, I’m in pain. Believe it or not, it pains me to write negatively about the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. I am personally acquainted with many of the people who work there, from the CEO, Mike Williams, on down, to Board members, staff members and volunteers. I count some of them among my friends. I know for a fact that they are dedicated and hard-working people.

I’ve been NCTMB since 2000 and an approved provider of CE since 2002. I’ve seen the ups and the downs of the organization: the days of great service, and the days of bad service. I’ve seen the leaders who had the best interests of the profession at  heart–and one or two who were on a personal mission to bring down the organization with their wild spending and lack of professional ethics. And I’ve seen–and even been a party to–some of their missteps. A couple of years ago when they announced an advanced certification exam, I signed right on. I even appeared in an advertising campaign for it, along with quite a few other well-known massage therapists, educators, and even some illustrious physicians. The failure of that project, I believe, was because it was a general thing, and not a specialty certification–which the profession has been requesting for quite some time.

CEO Mike Williams responded to my Wish List blog last week. I met Williams at the AFMTE meeting a couple of months ago and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours talking with him one-on-one. I hear (from other folks, he wasn’t bragging) that he has a proven track record of helping floundering organizations get back on track. He even joked to me that he had learned everything he needed to know about the NCB from reading my blog.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and I know that just from the comments I receive on this blog. However, distress at their latest action seems to be shared by more than a few people. The NCBTMB sent out an application for a new assigned school code to massage schools this week. Now, the organization has required a school code since the beginning; it’s just a number that students must include on their application to sit for one of the NCB exams, and it is supposed to demonstrate that the school is legitimate. That’s good in theory; and I think the original intent was to keep schools and/or individuals from falsifying diplomas and transcripts.

A number of school owners went up in arms this week when they received the application. True, it is just seven pages long, and that’s way less than what is required for a state board school approval or COMTA accreditation…but therein lines the issue: except for the schools in the few unregulated states, these schools have already been approved by their state boards, and in some cases, one or more accrediting bodies as well.

One school owner on my FB page said “We are opting out. The list of required paperwork is oppressive. Our school is now sending them all off to the Mblex. It’s moves like this that, in my opinion, will seal the deal of completely making the NCBTMB irrelevant. We had a school code with them, we maintain state approval which can be verified easily on the state website. The additional hassle which this organization seems to thrive on is over my tolerance level.”

Another sore point is the human trafficking angle. Now, I don’t think anyone is in favor of human trafficking except the people who are making a living off of it. As background, there has been legislation introduced in a few states requiring massage establishments to post notices about human trafficking–something that isn’t required in a convenience store (in other words, they’re picking on us again, supposedly because massage is a business in which it’s a big problem). On their 2010 990 filing, the NCB reported giving a $5000 donation to the Polaris Project, which fights human trafficking. They also started publishing brochures about human trafficking and selling them (at 2.50 for 25 of them, I don’t think they’re getting a big revenue stream off of that).

On the application that came out this week, school owners are being asked to sign a pledge about not participating in human trafficking, and doing whatever they can to stop human trafficking. I got calls from a few people that were upset about that; they stated to me that the NCBTMB was overstepping its boundaries and giving a false impression of having regulatory or law enforcement authority. Personally, I think any entity donating money to the Polaris Project and doing their part to fight human trafficking is admirable, but as someone on my FB page pointed out, is there really any school actually participating in such a thing that wouldn’t just sign the pledge anyway? It’s like asking people if they use illegal drugs on a job application. No one is going to write down that they have a cocaine habit, are they?

On the NCBTMB website, there are a couple of dozen schools listed as having their school code suspended, revoked, or denied. The reasons are not given, so one doesn’t know whether they were found to be participating in human trafficking, running a diploma mill, or what.

In his response on my blog, CEO Mike Williams talked about the forthcoming improvements from the NCB. Let me say, as much as it pains me: different singer, same song. I must make it clear that I have wanted this organization to survive, and thrive, but I am very concerned. And as Angela Palmier pointed out in her comments, people laughed when there was talk of another entity creating a licensing exam. In the meantime, the MBLEx has proceeded to saturate the market and it will just continue to get bigger and bigger–even if the NCBTMB steps in to challenge the states’ right to choose, like they did last week in Tennessee. They did actually prevail there, but at what cost? The Board members were upset, the GR rep from AMTA was upset, and in the end, the decision for the Board to acquiesce was based on their desire not to see their other impending legislation get scrapped in the crossfire.

In addition to the FSMTB sticking their toe in the water to test the profession’s reaction to their CE plan, I’ve recently been contacted by several people about starting (yet another) CE approval body. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but there’s no reason to think it can’t be done. For that matter, there is nothing to prohibit another entity from starting another certification agency….just like there are numerous accrediting agencies besides COMTA. It could happen.

I don’t doubt that the NCB has good intentions–but as we all know, good intentions are sometimes misguided. Placing an additional and very unnecessary burden on school  owners is misguided and the perception is that it’s one more example of duplicated efforts in this profession. Challenging state boards is misguided. The NCB needs all the public support they can get, and that isn’t winning them any friends. It is creating ill will, period. Hanging on to entry-level licensing instead of focusing on  becoming the one true certification agency is misguided. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

It’s All About Me

It’s all about me, so here’s my wishlist for the profession. It’s difficult to place these in order of importance, because some of them depend on each other, and in my little corner of massage, they’re all important. It’s election time–aren’t we all just about sick of hearing about it–candidates mudslinging and making campaign promises? If I was the President of Massage Land, here’s what I’d do:

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards would sit down at the table with the National Certification Boardand hammer out an agreement to a) help ease the NCBTMB out of the entry-level test market, b) contract with them to collaboratively administer continuing education instead of trying to take it over and c) forget their MOCC-ERY plan.

The NCBTMB would a) graciously accept that it’s time for them to get out of the entry-level test market, b) focus on cleaning up the CE approval program, and c) get it together with their new plan of raising standards of certification.

Both of these entities would cease and desist in sending out Job Task Analysis Surveys that are flawed from the get-go….they both supposedly pay psychometricians to help them out with these things, and still they are falling way short of the mark in ascertaining what they really need to ascertain. Stop worrying about how many times a week we give a massage, and stop ignoring the relaxation benefits of massage as if they don’t exist.

There will continue to be Leadership Summits. They will stick to the agreed-upon agenda at their meetings and not allow major surprises  to slide in from any of the organizations, and they will practice complete transparency and stop sending out press releases that contain no more information than an invitation to a baby shower.

Every one who is involved in massage therapy education will join the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education.

The profession will come to a consensus on what constitutes required core competencies for entry-level education, while still giving school owners the autonomy and individuality to rise over and above that.

All unregulated states will get state-wide regulation and all localities will honor those and not place ridiculous additional burdens on licensed therapists.

All massage schools will be required to teach research literacy to their students, and will only hire instructors who are capable of doing so.

The NCBTMB will stop approving woo-woo courses for CE credit, and all entry-level massage schools will stop teaching it. I don’t care if you study Interplanetary Voodoo with the Archangels, but you don’t deserve any credit for doing that.

Our professional associations will conduct annual surveys that have NOTHING to do with a Job Task Analysis–the sole purpose of it will be “Tell us what you think we are doing wrong and give us your suggestions for how we could do it better.”

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education will develop a program to offer instructor training to the masses that will be accessible and affordable–perhaps online.

Board members of all representing organizations will recognize their responsibility to not blindly follow the leader; to avoid not only conflicts of interest, but the appearance of conflicts of interest; will not put up with any cover-your-ass type behavior within their organizations; will hold their hired leadership accountable, and will have enough gumption to get rid of them if and when such behavior occurs.

All massage schools would seek COMTAapproval. If your school can’t afford that or doesn’t qualify because of not meeting the hour requirement, may I say that their standards are on their website for all the world to see for free, and you could still go about the self-study process and getting things up to snuff, even if you don’t formally seek the accreditation.

All school owners would be bound to have their school bonded, so that no school goes bankrupt and leaves students in the lurch in the middle of their program.

All schools would be required to post their pass rates on the licensing and certification exams on their websites and in their catalogs.

No school owner will be allowed to say to a potential student “Don’t worry, your criminal record won’t keep you from getting a license.” It should be mandatory for it to be disclosed that they may not receive a license. The state of Texas has a non-binding review, where for $50 a person seeking a career in any licensed profession can submit their criminal record for review prior to spending their time and money on pursuing education. Every state should do the same.

There should be a national exam for instructors to prove they are competent in teaching methodology and a subject matter expert in whatever area they intend to teach.

Each state should require a jurisprudence exam. Your licensees can’t adhere to the law unless they know what it is, and the percentage of applicants who actually read your practice act in its entirety is probably less than 5%–I’m basing that on asking that question in all the classes I teach. Hardly anyone reads them, but if they had to pass a test on it, they would.

The Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge would be about massage.If you want to have an energy work body of knowledge, create that.

Everyone involved in the profession would give financial support to the Massage Therapy Foundation. Give $100. Give $5. Give $1. Give whatever you can afford to give, just do it.

 

I could probably go on for days, but I have other chores to get to today. I invite my readers to add what they will. What’s on YOUR wishlist? What’s on mine that you object to, and why?

 

 

If at first you don’t succeed….

Try, try again. That’s what the regulatory board in my home state of North Carolina is recommending when it comes to getting the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards to do something about the confusing status of continuing education approvals.

Two years ago, the NC Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy introduced a resolution at the Annual Meeting of the FSMTB (which was held in Puerto Rico). This document instructed the Federation’s Board of Directors to “begin the process of developing a new national approval program for continuing education providers and courses.” The organization’s leadership responded positively to the resolution, and announced to the profession in the Spring of 2011 the launch of a comprehensive project to do just that. They also invited AFMTE, AMTA and ABMP to work with them to provide input that would help shape the project.

In spite of this clearly stated intention to develop a “centralized quality assurance process for all courses taken by massage and bodywork therapists for the renewal of State licensure or State certification” (quoted verbatim from the FSMTB press release dated 3/29/11), the outcome of this process missed the mark by a country mile. The MOCC Proposal, which stands for Maintenance of Core Competencies, failed to deliver what the state boards asked for, and what FSMTB promised.

To remind you, the MOCC Proposal was based on a new (and unproven) concept of separating continuing education that relates to “public protection” from all other CE that is taken for “professional development”. MOCC recommended that only CE related to “public protection” be required by state boards for renewal of licensure, and everything else be put into the voluntary category, to be regulated by… well, the proposal didn’t even mention NCBTMB. If this all weren’t bad enough, FSMTB would become the exclusive provider of coursework needed to maintain “core competency” in the subjects related to “public protection”.

For more background on the MOCC issue, refer to my blog posts of 3/14/12 and 4/15/12. It’s also illuminating to read the press release AMTA issued on 4/23/12 which contained a complete repudiation of the Federation’s proposal.

In a friendly game of golf, you can take a “mulligan” every now and again–a “do-over”. My colleagues at the NC Board are giving the FSMTB leadership an opportunity to take a mulligan on this vitally important CE approval issue. They have recently submitted another resolution to be discussed by Member Boards at the upcoming FSMTB Annual Meeting in New Orleans on September 27-29. This resolution is much like the original from two years ago, and its appearance at this point in time indicates that the need for a single-source national CE approval program has not gone away.

The primary rationale is contained in this statement from the new resolution:
“Reliance upon the NCB Approved Provider program has been problematic for state boards because (a) NCB is a private, non-profit corporation that lacks oversight from and accountability to state regulatory boards; (b) its program has not adequately evaluated the quality or relevance of CE courses; (c) administration of this program has had notable service delivery problems over an extended period of time.”

That’s all true, but the opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. The NCBTMB has the infrastructure already in place–and this will be nothing more than another case of duplicated efforts if the Federation steps in and tries to take it away without consideration of the NCB’s position in that marketplace. I think a collaboration would be more appropriate; by contracting with the NCB to administer CE approvals, FSMTB could establish the accountability structure that state boards must have with NCB, and FSMTB wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They could just improve upon it.

Yesterday, I conducted one of my Scientific Facebook Polls, and asked the questions: How many MTs REALLY care what is happening with our professional organizations and what they are doing? How many people care about the MTBOK, the ELAP, the MOCC (don’t y’all love all these acronyms) or even know what they really are? How many people care about the legislation and regulation of massage? How many people care that there are initiatives to raise standards for teachers of massage therapy and for massage education in general? Do you care about all those things, or would you rather just be left alone to do massage?

I got 75 replies in a 24-hour period, and one thing is apparent: to the average massage therapist trying to make a living, many perceive our organizations to be all about politics and all about money. To some extent, that’s true…the one with the most money wins. The perception is also that they all have their own agendas. Actually, recently some of them seem to have the same agenda, but they’ve wasted time and money in duplicating efforts, or opposing each other’s efforts, and scrapping over turf wars. In a recent blog I urged the NCBTMB to take themselves out of the entry-level exam market and suggested that the FSMTB assists them financially in return for their doing so. Earlier this week, in a piece published in Massage Today, Ralph Stephens called on AMTA and ABMP to offer “substantial and ongoing financial support” to COMTA and AFMTE, to further their important efforts to improve the quality of massage therapy education.

FSMTB and the NCB have recently conducted new Job Task Analysis surveys, both of them seriously flawed, in my humble opinion. These surveys show a strong bias towards the clinical/medical side of massage therapy, and contain virtually nothing about the KSA’s related to delivering massage therapy as a primary means of facilitating well-being and integration. From my perspective, the latter is of equal or greater importance.

In addition, the FSMTB survey has a special add-on section to gather data for the Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP). This dual-purpose survey does ask lots of questions about specific medical conditions, but it contains nothing about the client/therapist relationship. The word “relax” does not appear anywhere, and the word “relaxation” shows up just once.

There’s also an over-focus on the huge number of modalities that are marketed in this field. Many of these listed are obscure and little-understood. It’s wrong to ask a therapist to define themselves by a single named modality. Practitioners typically use a broad range of methods with clients. The modality is not the treatment — it’s the totality of what a practitioner brings to the session.

Finally, this Federation JTA is similar to the recent JTA from NCBTMB: another duplicated effort that still falls short of giving an accurate picture of what happens in the real world of massage therapy. You can count how many times a week we give a massage or take SOAP notes, but that’s not what it’s really about. It’s about our rapport with the client, and what kind of results we are able to produce, and what kind of trust we can inspire in our therapeutic relationships. The MTBOK generally missed the boat on this as well, although I have high hopes that the line-by-line analysis and re-mapping of the MTBOK that was conducted by AFMTE will give us a usable body of knowledge.

As a result of these large-scale projects, it’s likely that the kind of incomplete and disjointed training that is typical in our field will get further enshrined as the baseline for education. Skewed survey questions produce skewed data. Using that data to build a new standard for the entire field is not just wrong, it’s a crime against the lineage of massage therapy. Just look at what has happened to the other health care professions who have organized themselves around the mechanistic/reductionistic model. People are treated as parts, and no discipline ever looks at the whole person. Massage therapists still have the ability to treat holistically. Relaxation is being relegated to a lower-class status of therapeutic effect, when it’s one of the most valuable aspects we offer with this work.

This whole scenario illustrates one thing: the time has never been more ripe for getting our act together, and that isn’t going to happen while there’s all this push and pull and one-upmanship going on with the organizations. When the leaders of the seven primary stakeholder groups sat down at the table for the first time last September, the ELAP proposal appeared out of nowhere–it wasn’t even on the agenda and it got slid in anyway. I would like to see them sit down again, and take a serious look at these issues. Put ego and profit aside. Take a real look at the flaws in your information-gathering processes. If you want to see what massage therapists really think, sign on to my Facebook page and you might get a rude awakening at their opinions of you. You wouldn’t exist without us, and what we think does matter. A Job Task Analysis survey asks what we do--and frankly, it isn’t near as important as what we think. Consider that.

 

Report from the FSMTA Meeting

Champ and I spent the weekend at the Florida State Massage Therapy Association meeting in ChampionsGate, FL. It was our first time attending this event, and we went there to work in the Soothing Touch booth with Gurukirn Khalsa and his family. The event was  held at the beautiful Omni Resort…a lush tropical setting and superior accommodations. It was hot as the devil–but it got up to 108 ° back here at home in NC while we were there, so I really can’t complain about it. The FSMTA meeting is huge. The organization has over 5000 members, and they had a great turnout.

In addition to working, we had plenty of socializing with friends old and new. I spent over an hour in conversation with Mike Williams, Executive Director of the NCBTMB and our interview will be appearing soon in a future blog. Our booth was right across from the NCBTMB booth so I spent a good bit of time chatting with Lori Ohlman and Donna Sarvello, and later Sue Toscano and Alexa Zaledonis. You may say whatever you like about the NCBTMB–it is staffed by great, dedicated people. Bruce Baltz of Bon Vital is also on the NCBTMB Board, and he gave me a great foot massage.

I spent some time with The Massage Nerd doing a few videos–I suspect they’ll be rolled out soon. Ryan Hoyme stayed busy doing videos for everyone present that wanted one. Since I was actually working, I had short visits with a lot of people instead of longer visits with a few people! Ruth Werner was there with her daughter Lily, as were Leslie Young Giase of Massage & Bodywork Magazine/ABMP and Paul Slomski, representing  the Massage Therapy Foundation. Pete Whitridge, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, and Iris Burman were there for the AFMTE; Kate Ivane Henri Zulaski and Cliff Korn were there for COMTA, and the FSMTB was represented…this is a big meeting, so all the major organizations were in attendance. Massage Today and Massage Magazine folks were there, too. Vivian Madison-Mahoney and her husband John, Leslie Lopez, Pat Donahue and her hubby Joe, Angie Patrick, Scott Dartnall, James Waslaski, Karen Kowal, David Kent, Anita Shannon, Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Michael McGillicuddy….too many people to name but it was like a reunion of some of the nicest and most dedicated people in massage, even when I only got to see them for a minute.

Champ and I attended the FB Meet and Greet…I always meet a few of my FB friends at those events, and it’s turned into such a popular thing that all the major conventions now have one.

Speaking of major conventions, the one glitch was the same that I have noticed at other conventions, and that’s vendors getting upset with the schedule and/or location. I’m not picking on FSMTA here, because something similar seems to happen wherever we go. The particular issue this time was that the vendor hall was slam full of people Thursday evening at 5 pm, and they shut down the vendors so the association could have a 2 hour business meeting. At other organization meetings I have attended, the hall was either so far removed from the mainstream that people practically had to walk a mile to get there, or the hours coincided with the times people are in class and not much over or above that. I encourage EVERY group who organizes a massage event, whether it’s small or large, to give these people a break! Booth space is usually expensive, especially at major events, and these folks go to a lot of expense and trouble to support your events. You need to support them. I’ve heard the suggestion several times that registration should be held IN the vendor hall so that attendees had to walk through it to register, and that’s not a bad idea. As I said, I’m not picking on FL. It is a problem at many places.

The FSMTA has been around since 1939 and has 15 chapters throughout the state. That’s a pretty big accomplishment. I was pleased to meet so many of their members. I had a great time at their meeting and plan to attend again.

Come to COMTA

I just got home from doing a site review from COMTA. It was my third trip as a peer reviewer, and once again, an enlightening experience. COMTA is the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Gaining accreditation is a strictly voluntary process. It’s estimated that there are about 1500 massage schools/programs in the US, and less than 100 of them possess the accreditation. Obtaining COMTA accreditation for a massage school is not cheap, and it’s a lot of hard work, so you might wonder why a school would do it. After getting acquainted with all the ins and outs of it, the answer, to me, is that it’s a  hallmark of excellence. It’s a way to say “We’re going beyond what the state requires to prove that we have a superior school.”

Part of the accreditation process is a very thorough self-study report. Schools must review their policies, their procedures, the way they conduct business, the education they provide. If it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist. As a peer reviewer, my job is to study their documentation before getting to the site, and then doing an actual visit to the school. Every syllabus, every lesson plan, every piece of documentation related to their educational process and their business proceedings is reviewed. The curriculum needs to fall in line with the mission statement. The education offered must match the learning objectives that are stated. When the reviewers show up for the site visit, we basically review every piece of documentation they claim to have, to make sure it actually exists and to make sure it does what it claims to be doing.

The accreditation doesn’t just earn a nice label for the school. It provides a measure of protection to the student, as well. It assures that the school has definite policies on qualifications for insuring the competency of instructors, absenteeism, grading, following a carefully thought-out lesson plan, and much more. It assures that financial aid is being administered correctly and that student finances are carefully documented. It assures that their are policies on sexual harassment, and that instructors have to continually improve themselves with technical training and continuing education.

A COMTA school can’t rest on their laurels. It’s an ongoing process of maintaining the standards, and regular review. A school that is poorly managed isn’t going to cut the mustard. It’s safe to say there aren’t any diploma mills or haphazardly run schools among the ranks.

COMTA standards are on the organization’s website. Anyone can access them. I challenge every single school owner in the country to review them one at a time, and see how your school stacks up. Take the leap and apply for accreditation. When we review your documentation and show up for a site visit, we’re not there to thump you on the head for any shortcomings; we’re there to help you come into compliance with the highest standards in the massage profession.

COMTA is also always seeking competent peer reviewers. The training to be a reviewer is also available on the website. Visit www.comta.org, and come to COMTA.

 

Report from the AFMTE Annual Meeting

I spent last weekend in toasty Tucson, AZ at the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education annual meeting, and for the third year in a row since this organization started, it was one of the best things I have ever attended. There were quite a few new people attending this year, and attendance was up slightly from last year. The meeting was held at the El Conquistador resort, a beautiful venue with gorgeous mountain and desert views.  I was late getting there and unfortunately missed the opening ceremony and the keynote presentation by Benny Vaughn, which I heard was fantastic.

As usual, there were great continuing education offerings…I attended Tracy Walton’s class on “Busting Myths and Critical Thinking Skills,” which was informative and entertaining, and I heard nothing but praise from attendees of the other classes, which included offerings by Stephanie Beck, Martha Brown Menard, Susan Beam, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, Terrie Yardly-Nohr, Nancy Dail, Pat Benjamin, and Ben Benjamin. Bear in mind, these classes aren’t your average CE class–they are directed at massage therapy educators. When these great teachers weren’t teaching a class, they could be found attending someone else’s class. That is one of the most wonderful things about this gathering to me; it is attended by some of the most well-respected and well-known educators in this profession–and they all have the attitude that they’re not finished learning. Kudos to every one of them.

Nancy Dail organized a “Meet the Authors” gathering, and it was amazing. I was humbled to be included in such awesome company. I doubt if I can name all these people   in the correct order in the picture so I won’t even try. Mark Beck was out of the room when the picture was taken but he was present as well. The group included (in alphabetical order) Timothy Agnew, Sandra K. Anderson, Pat Archer, Ben Benjamin, Pat Benjamin, Andrew Biel, Celia Bucci, Iris Burman, Nancy Dail, Sandy Fritz, Julie Goodwin, Martha Menard-Brown, Carole Osborne, David Palmer, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, Ralph Stephens, Tracy Walton, and Terrie Yardley-Nohr. Also absent was David Lauterstein, who had an airline travel nightmare, but his book was present along with the others authored by these amazing people. I don’t know when I have ever seen such talent present in one room.

All the major organizations had representatives in attendance, with the exception of ABMP. I’m not sure if they were making a statement by not showing up or not. I had actually spoken to Bob Benson, the Chairman of ABMP, a few days before the meeting and asked him if they would be in attendance, and he did not make any mention of political reasons for staying away…of the likely candidates that would have attended, several were on vacation, one was attending a family wedding and so forth. Still, their absence was notable, no matter what the reason. AMTA, the FSMTB, and COMTA were all in attendance. There was also chair massage offered at the meeting to benefit the Massage Therapy Foundation, and thanks to the efforts of Taya Countryman who organized that effort, over $900 was raised for the Foundation.

Elections were held, and the standing officers were all re-elected. Two new board seats were also added. The AFMTE Board has let go of their management company and are handling it themselves, and the two new board members are needed to help with the many tasks of the organization. Stephanie Beck and Heather Piper were elected as members-at-large.  I agreed to serve on the marketing committee….I don’t do boards anymore of any kind, since that would interfere with my blogging, or at least the perception thereof, but I’m glad to serve the organization on this committee.

Breakout sessions were held to discuss numerous topics of interest to educators, including all the various projects that are going on at the moment, not the least of which is the Teacher Education Standards Project. Other breakout sessions were to talk about the MOCC proposal from the FSMTB, the new policies announced by the NCBTMB, and other issues facing the profession.  There weren’t any formal votes in any of the discussions I sat in on, but a number of people I talked to all said the same thing–that there are a lot of duplicated efforts going on, which is a waste of time and resources. John Weeks, Executive Director of ACCAHC, also gave a keynote address where he stated that we have a tendency to get ourselves trapped in whirlpools–and how much influence we could have because of our sheer numbers, if we would just get out of them.

During the business meeting, President Pete Whitridge announced that the organization has no debt. That’s a fabulous position to be in, but I would like to state that we need and welcome corporate sponsors, as well as individual members. The Alliance has worked very hard to keep membership fees reasonable–and to hold our meetings in reasonable places. Although the El Conquistador is the lap of luxury and a beautiful place, we got a room rate of $99 per night. Many meals were provided as well, so financially, it’s a bargain to join. Please visit the AFMTE website to find out about the many benefits available to you as a member. There are also vendor opportunities and sponsorship opportunities at the annual meeting. Thanks to exhibitors Biotone, Bon Vital, Books of Discovery, the Center for Embodied Teacher Education, F.A. Davis, the International Association of Massage Business, Massage Envy, the Massage Therapy Foundation, Massamio, the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences, Performance Health/Biofreeze, Wellx, and Wolters Kluwer Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Thanks also to sponsors of the meeting, Massage Today, Massage Magazine Insurance Plus, the Florida State Massage Therapy Associaton, Massage Envy, Books of Discovery, Pearson, Biofreeze, and SOAP Vault. Soothing Touch , Oakworks, and Massage Warehouse, along with many others also donated door and raffle prizes.

On a personal note, I had a big fat time socializing with so many friends and making a few new ones. I had dinner the first night with Julie Onofrio, Kathleen Gramzay, and Karen Hobson. I met with Mike Noble, the new acquisitions editor at Lippincott, and Shauna Kelley, their marketing manager, for dinner on Friday night to discuss a couple of projects, and Saturday night, I had a blast with the team from Massamio and a bunch of other friends–both FB friends and the real variety. I went to lunch one day with Allissa Haines and Gregory Hurd…we went sneaking out to the In-and-Out-Burger for a junk food fix. I spent a couple of hours talking with Ryan Hoyme (aka The MassageNerd), and just in general enjoyed myself and enjoyed seeing everyone. I tried to sit with someone different at every meal and every class so I could visit with as many people as possible, and wish I could have personally talked to everyone there. I did have a few good but short conversations, with Sandy Fritz, Sue Toscano, Susan Beck, Mark Beck, and other good folks. As usual, there just weren’t enough hours in the day.

The biggest thanks, and deservedly so, goes to Cherie Sohnen-Moe. Tucson is Cherie’s home town, and she really went over and beyond the call of duty in helping to organize the event. She’s probably ready for a vacation!

I urge you to join the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. We are hoping to accomplish some great things, and we need your expertise and your input. We are a non-profit organization and of course donations are welcomed, but what we’d really like is your membership fee–AND your participation. We want and appreciate active members! There are a lot of things going on in our profession right now, as I have reported right here. We need to be sure that education evolves in a way that serves the highest good of the profession, in total transparency, and that our membership gets plenty of input. That’s one thing that is very evident about this group of people–they do want to hear what the members think….and here we have some of the best and brightest minds in the business. You could almost get star-struck at this meeting–but there is not a standoffish person in the bunch. Don’t wait until the next meeting; join us now, and get involved. If you are an educator, school owner, administrator, or industry partner, we need you. And I’m going to shamelessly use the same quote that I used from Jan Schwartz at last year’s meeting: “If you’re not at the table,  you’re on the menu.”

A Betrayal of Trust

Any time one of the major organizations in the massage field tries to fire up a project that will “advance the profession”, I get awfully suspicious. When a group of them get together to do something on the big scale, I go on full nuclear alert. That’s the case right now with a dubious education standards project introduced by ABMP in September 2011 at the Leadership Summit in St. Louis, which I detailed in my previous post, Behind Closed Doors.

As the title of that blog suggests, 100% of the activity surrounding this project has taken place in secret, with no information about the project being released to the massage therapy community—and no opportunities for review or comment before time, money and human resources are thrown at solving a perceived problem.

AMTA and FSMTB have signed on to this project, which will involve gathering information from the Federation’s upcoming Job Task Analysis survey, to use in a process that will “identify the rudimentary knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to pass a licensing exam and provide basic, but safe, massage in an early massage career.”

That doesn’t sound like a such bad thing—in and of itself—but the group intends to use this data to create an “evidence-based minimum educational requirement” for state licensing. This would be used as a rationale for changing state laws, and would likely be used to drive the curriculum standards for entry-level massage programs—basically telling schools what to do.

Goodness knows, there is a lot of inconsistency in massage education and regulation, but there is no problem in our profession that justifies one or a group of our so-called “stakeholder organizations” seizing the ball and marching down the field without our input or permission. I don’t give a rat’s you-know-what if they claim to be doing this in our best interests; this power play is a gigantic betrayal of trust. And I might add that I am personally in favor of the evidence-based practice of massage, but I don’t think one tiny group of people should get to decide what that is.

I’ve not yet been able to confirm the status of NCBTMB, Massage Therapy Foundation, AFMTE or COMTA as it relates to this project (mum’s the word all around). These four organizations, along with ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB just gathered on May 1-2 for another Leadership Summit—this time in Chicago. I’m taking bets that they will issue another sanitized press release that gives us regular folks in the bleachers little substance about what really happened in this meeting that has the potential to alter the very nature of our profession.

The only other info I’ve been able to glean is that ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB hand-picked a new workgroup of massage educators and other “experts” in instructional design and curriculum development to start this project on May 3-4, right after the completion of the Summit. Are you kidding me? Where was the public notice of this opportunity to serve on a panel that will influence the future of massage therapy? Who gave these organizations the authority to do this on our behalf?

No one. They took it on themselves, and that’s what stinks to high heaven.

In stark contrast, the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge project had both fans and detractors, but it was carried out with a reasonable amount of transparency. The majority of the dissent on the project concerned the inclusion of energy work in the document and dissatisfaction with the way objections were handled—or not handled—in favor of evidence-based practices. The five organizations that comprised the MTBOK Stewards (ABMP, AMTA, FSMTB, MTF, NCBTMB) did a good job of not interfering with the project once it was launched.

Right now, we have a genuine crisis on our hands. The problem is that hardly anyone knows about it. This blog only goes so far. I never set myself up to be the New York Times of the massage field, but it seems like the major massage publications are afraid to get their teeth into the real breaking news that affects the practitioners, teachers, CE providers and schools that make this profession possible.

Friends, it’s up to YOU to let these organizations know that it’s not OK for them to act in your interest without your permission. As long as these “leaders” think they can get away with it, they will. Trust has been blown out of the water, and it will take a concerted effort to rebuild it.

A really good first step would be for ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB to release a full description of the project, including what they plan to do, how it will be done, who sits on the new workgroup, what the timelines are, and what money will be spent. And most importantly, we want to know what they intend to do with the “evidence”. When organizations that represent us are making major decisions that affect us, we deserve to be involved in the process.

Behind Closed Doors

From the title, you might think this blog is about The Client List, the trashy new show on the Lifetime Channel that gives massage therapy a black eye. No such luck; the event I am referring to is the upcoming Leadership Summit #2, set to take place next week in Chicago.

The first Leadership Summit (to clarify: there were summits in 2003-04 before AFMTE and FSMTB existed) took place last September in St. Louis, with the executive directors and chairs of ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, the Massage Therapy Foundation, FSMTB, COMTA, and NCBTMB in attendance. It was a historic event in that it was the first time all seven of these organizations had come together in the best interests of the profession. The purpose, according to the press release announcing the meeting, “was to hold a beginning conversation about major structural issues and impediments to profession progress. The desire is to have candid exchange about core challenges, quality concerns, consumer expectations and organizational roles.”

Apparently, one of the hot topics at this week’s meeting is going to be the number of required entry-level education hours. Although this was not on the agreed-upon agenda at the first meeting, it was introduced anyway by ABMP Chairman Bob Benson, complete with a thorough proposal prepared by Anne Williams, Director of Education at ABMP. Basically, the proposal was for a task force to be formed immediately, and using Job Task Analyses that have been conducted by the NCBTMB and the FSMTB, to nail down a definite number of hours that should be required for entry-level education. This was contrary to the facilitator’s recommendation—and the group’s agreement— that they would spend the initial meeting identifying problems, and would address possible solutions for these problems at meetings to follow.

In the interest of the leaders being comfortable in speaking freely, these are closed meetings—no press and no other staff members in attendance—an executive session, so to speak. Certainly not without precedent; boards have executive sessions all the time—usually to discuss personnel matters or other things that would violate someone’s privacy if they were discussed in public.

That’s not exactly the case here; and while I am thrilled that our leaders—some of whom are from competing organizations—are sitting down at the table together, my concern is that a small group of people has the power to decide (or worse, just think they have the power to decide), what is best for the profession on the whole, without getting input from the people it affects—you and me. Practitioners, school owners, teachers, CE providers, the regulatory community, all have a vested interest in the future of our profession, and I don’t think that should be decided by an exclusive group behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, that is just what the ABMP proposal states in no uncertain terms. Verbatim, Williams’ proposal stated: There is no step in this proposal to obtain input from the broader massage profession or from other health-care or bodywork organizations during this project. The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs.

The sentence that disturbs me there is “It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught.” Any time you start to think it doesn’t matter what stakeholders think, there’s a problem, in my humble opinion, no matter what the issue. Stakeholders are the ones it will affect, and to think their opinion isn’t important is just beyond the pale.

At the recent ABMP School Issues Forum in Austin, Texas, Bob Benson stated to those in attendance that there was 100% consensus in support of this standards-setting proposal from the organizations that attended the Leadership Summit. That’s not exactly so. COMTA, FSMTB, and AFMTE all expressed concerns after the proposal was introduced in September; they are not petty concerns, and they do not appear in any way to be based on politics or turf wars.
This is bad business for two primary reasons: First, any project that has the potential to affect the entire massage therapy profession should not be designed, approved, and launched in secret. Changing the baseline numbers of entry-level education required for state licensure is a huge thing, as it will affect schools, regulators, and future students.

By contrast, the MTBOK project modeled appropriate transparency, and the massage community had adequate opportunities for input along the way.

Second, it is more important right now that our primary stakeholder organizations learn to work together in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation—than to plunge headlong into a major problem-solving project when consensus has NOT been reached. The end does not justify the means. Some of my own issues are that the MTBOK and the competency-based curriculum standards set forth by COMTA aren’t even being given consideration. This proposal also overlooks the fact that the AFMTE is currently working on a National Teacher Standards Education Project. A huge amount of work has gone into creating both the MTBOK and the COMTA standards; a huge amount of work from some of the best educators in the business is going into the AFMTE project, and for these to be cast aside when they have direct relevance to this proposal is irresponsible to say the least.

During our troublesome economy of the past few years—and it doesn’t appear to be over yet—school owners have been seriously affected already, and having a nation-wide upheaval based on an “official” number of required hours is not the be-all end-all solution to licensing portability. It will just serve to put an additional burden into the mix at the present time. The lack of portability may be an irritant to our field, but it is not causing harm to the public.

The AMTA Board of Directors voted last October to support the project in its present form. As ABMP and AMTA are the two largest professional membership associations, they carry a big stick. That doesn’t mean their agendas should be force-fed to the profession, and I hope that they will reconsider both the timeline, and the very valid concerns raised by the other organizations before barging ahead with this project. I am certainly not saying that it never needs to happen. I am just saying it doesn’t need to happen on speed-dial until all of these issues have been ironed out. I hate to see good intentions canceled out by unchecked enthusiasm for rushing something to market; I hate to see valid concerns from the other organizations swept under the carpet; and I hate to see the opinion that what the stakeholders think doesn’t matter.

When you’re meeting behind closed doors, it’s easy to forget who the stakeholders are. I’m one of them. I’m a member of both AMTA and ABMP, a founding member of the AFMTE, a past delegate to the FSMTB, a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist & Bodyworker, an Approved Provider under the NCBTMB, and a current site reviewer for COMTA, so I do indeed have a vested interest. I don’t appreciate our national organizations acting as if my opinion and that of the other thousands of massage therapists, school owners, and others who enable your very existence on this planet don’t matter.

At this week’s Summit, the representatives of these seven organizations have an opportunity to address this issue that has divided the group, and to get their process back on track. I hope that they also remember the responsibility that they have to their own members, and to the profession as a whole. To use ABMP’s own slogan here, we “Expect More” from our leaders.

It Was a Very Good Year

As I look back over 2011, it was a very good year. For the 8th year in a row, since I first opened my business, I am going to finish the year with a growth in sales and in my bottom line. That’s rather miraculous, considering the unemployment rate in my county has been between 14-16% for most of the year. Many businesses have closed. The foreclosure notices in the paper have far outweighed the job listings for the past couple of years. And still, we have thrived, and we had zero staff turnover. I’m very grateful to be blessed with such wonderful staff members and clients.

This year started out with a bang when we made a trip to Miami to participate in the Massage School Makeover organized by Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse. What started as a little project of Angie’s snowballed into one of the most magnanimous displays of generosity throughout the massage world. The Educating Hands school ended up with over $80,000 worth of equipment and supplies donated by industry partners. As they were moving into a brand-new building at the time, it was just a fresh start for their well-respected school. It was a joy to participate in it and to see so many of my friends from the profession at the festivities. I also got to visit my youngest brother on that trip, and got to see a dear friend who used to live here in NC that I  hadn’t seen for several years. That one was bittersweet since her husband, who was also a friend and former business partner with Champ, had passed away suddenly a few months before, but it was a wonderful visit.

I was honored at the American Massage Conference this year as the Massage Therapist of the Year…and that wasn’t even the highlight of the conference. Getting up to play a few tunes with Errol N Schroeder at the dinner dance was the high point for me. I had a blast! Scott Dartnall and the rest of those Canadians came out of the gate running and made their first American event a resounding success.

Then the World Massage Festival came along and I was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, which I appreciated, but I was also awarded there for Government Relations, which I’d have to say meant even more to me. I’m no Sally Hacking–whom I greatly admire and who has been working in GR for several decades–I’m not able to go all over the country attending legislative sessions and even if I could, I certainly lack her expertise and experience; the award was for my efforts to keep the masses informed of what’s going on through my blog and social media. My politics aren’t popular with everyone, and that’s okay. I feel good about it if I am able to jolt even one person out of complacency to take up the fight against detrimental legislation. I got to play some music at that one, too. The Hinkles are just some of the nicest people in massage and I always enjoy the World Massage Festival, which I refer to as the Woodstock of massage. Leave your coat and tie at home, and just come and have a great time! The 2012 event will be in Las Vegas.

My annual trip to Ireland was one of the high points of the year. It always is. I enjoy teaching the students at the Obus School of Healing Therapies, hanging out with my Irish friends, visiting a few pubs 🙂 and in general, just breathing the Irish air.

I traveled a lot this year. I was invited by the NCBTMB to come to Chicago for a meeting with a lot of industry leaders to offer input on how they can improve the Approved Provider program. I in particular appreciated that meeting, because that’s where the seed was planted for the Massage Therapy Profession Leadership Summit that took place a few months ago, where for the first time, all of our national leaders came together for the common good. It was attended by the executive management and board chairs from the AFMTE, FSMTB, AMTA, ABMP, COMTA, NCBTMB, and the MTF. Speaking of the Massage Therapy Foundation, it was another red-letter day for me to be included on Rise and Shine, a CD of wonderful music donated by massage therapists to raise money for the Foundation. If you don’t have your copy yet, get on the ball! I am very honored to be in the company of such great musicians. It is truly a great compilation.

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education meeting in Charleston was one of the best events I’ve ever attended. The annual national convention of AMTA in Portland was probably the best one I’ve ever attended, and I’ve been going to those for quite a few years. Kudos to the Oregon Chapter and to President Glenath Moyle for putting on a heck of a good time in such a lovely city. I also got to make my first trip to New Orleans on behalf of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and it was a blast. I completed five years of service to that board this year, and while I miss the wonderful staff and friends I made at the board, I don’t miss that five-hour haul to Raleigh or having to participate in disciplinary hearings. I got to make my first trip to Los Angeles to attend the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting, which was as usual, informative and a good time visiting with so many other board members from across the country.

Without dragging out my calendar, I can’t recall every place I got to teach in this year, but they were all fun and filled with beautiful people. One of the high points–literally–was the Take it to the Top Summit put on by Vivian Madison-Mahoney over in Gatlinburg, TN. The hotel was at the top of a mountain, we were on the 14th floor, and the view was just beautiful. That was one of the best education conferences ever, and Vivian and her husband John certainly know how to throw a great event. A lot of my buds were there–Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Michael McGillicuddy, Irene Diamond,  Mike Hinkle and his wife Cindy and a lot more, and a good time was just had by all. I got to play some music at that one, too. Vivian loaned me her limited edition Martin for the occasion since I came without a guitar. It was great.

I made my first site visit as a peer reviewer for COMTA a couple of months ago. I went to New Bedford, MA to review a community college massage program. It was a good learning experience for me, and the other reviewers were great companions. We had a good time. Our hotel was across from the harbor and a good seafood restaurant, so it was a good time.

I had some great classes at the office this year. Marjorie Brook came down from NY to teach a Scar Tissue Release seminar, and she was accompanied by my friend Allissa Haines. We had a good time visiting with them. Christine Courtney and her husband Colum came over from Ireland for Christine’s classes in Indian Head Massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and we always look forward to their visit as well.

On a personal level, lest I just sound like an effervescent fool who never has a bad moment, we’ve had some. My husband’s best friend Brent Stephens passed away this year…he was suffering, so it was a blessing for him to go, but it was still a great loss to both of us. Another dear friend died suddenly this year. Donna Metcalf was the picture of health when I saw her last, and three weeks later, she was gone…an unfortunate case of going to the hospital for a simple procedure that went very wrong. Donna was a force of nature, one of those women who dressed in sparkly clothes and a feather boa, and just lit up every room she ever entered. Her death was a shock. It was also a reinforcement that you ought to live every day like it’s your last. It just might be.

I’ve had some family trauma and drama this year…hasn’t everybody? But I’m pleased to say it seems to be on the upswing. My constant prayer is that those family members who need to forgive each other will just get on with it. One year at Christmas when there were some family divisions, my husband said “Well, we could have two dinners.” He was referring to the people who weren’t speaking to each other and the “I won’t be there if they’ll be there” situation, and my reply was “Hell no, we will not have two dinners. They can sit down and break bread with each other or they can go to McDonald’s.” My fond hope is that they’ll all come to the table. The people we resent feel good. Carrying around resentment is, as someone said, like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It isn’t hurting anyone except the person carrying it around.

One of the last great things to happen this year was my husband Champ passing the MBLEx. He is currently waiting for his North Carolina massage license to arrive. Champ is a builder by trade, and the economy here has been a sudden death to his business. There are so many foreclosed properties here, no one needs to build anything. You can buy a house that was on the market three years ago for a million bucks for less than $200,000. You can buy a perfectly livable house for less than $30,000. In fact, if you only need a small one with one or two bedrooms,  you can find some for less than $20,000. Still, I feel optimistic that things are looking up. Facebook has recently built a new data center in our town, and a couple of other manufacturing businesses have come in on their coattails. Hopefully, the economy is going to turn around and the residents in my county will see their circumstances improve. I certainly hope so.

Another great thing this year was what I have been referring to as The Grand Purge. I have been on a mission the past couple of months to clean out my house and my office. I keep watching the old video clip on youtube of George Carlin and his rant about “Stuff.” I have too much Stuff. Or rather, I had too much Stuff. A lot of it is gone…I’ve donated things, sold things, thrown out some things, burned some things…I’m getting rid of my Stuff. Stuff is like an albatross around your neck. My attitude is if I haven’t used it in a year, I’m not going to use it in another year.  I figured if I was going to move, and wouldn’t want to take it with me, then I don’t really need it. So goodbye, Stuff. It’s been very liberating.

I’ll remember this year. A lot of good things happened. A few bad things happened. That’s the way life goes. But all in all, it was a very good year.

Rick Rosen: A Job Well Done

Rick Rosen, MA, LMBT, Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, announced last week that he will be stepping down from that position effective November 30.

In his letter to Alliance members, Rosen stated that he is returning to his full-time duties at the Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC. He founded the school in 1983 and has co-owned and co-directed it with his wife, Carey Smith, for the past 20 years. Their beautiful school and 150-acre property is for sale, and they intend to move permanently to their new abode on the Big Island of Hawaii whenever it’s sold.

Rosen has been a massage therapist since 1978. There are very few people in this profession who could claim anywhere near the amount of hours he has spent volunteering his time, and working for the evolution of massage therapy – both on the legislative and educational fronts.

I first met Rosen in 2000 when he was a founding member and the first chair of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, a position he held from 1999-2003. He was very instrumental in getting massage regulated in our state and in assisting the Board’s legal counsel in drafting the administrative rules and statutes. As a former Board member myself (2006-2011), I appreciate fully the countless hours of unpaid work, and imagine that to be so much more for a start-up Board.

Rosen has always had a fondness for getting in on the ground floor and helping to lay the foundation for the future success of organizations. He also served as the first Executive Director of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (2005-2006), and wrote the Request for Proposal that led to the development of the MBLEx as the licensing exam of choice.

In 2009, Rosen hand-picked some seasoned educators to help launch the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. Under his leadership, the AFMTE has made its mark as the stakeholder for education among the professional organizations. Recently, the ACCAHC Board of Directors invited the Alliance to join its Council of Colleges and Schools as the designated education representative for the massage therapy field, further solidifying the Alliance’s role. Not bad for an organization only two years old.

Rosen’s school was the first to offer professional training for massage therapists in the Carolinas, and the first to offer post-graduate training. BTI was also the first school in the Carolinas to receive accreditation from the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. He has presented massage education all over the country and in West Africa. He has been a professional member of AMTA since 1983, helped form the AMTA-NC Chapter, and was Chapter President from 1985-1987. He has authored a number of white papers, and was a contributing author to TEACHING MASSAGE: Fundamental Principles in Adult Education for Massage Program Instructors, published in 2008 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Rosen’s pioneering contributions to this field over the past three decades have been many, and often unsung. In fact, I contacted him and requested a copy of his resume before I wrote this – and I could write a book about all the things he’s done in the arenas of bodywork, education and government relations that I had no idea about.

I gave a list of “kudos” and “thumps on the head” in a recent blog, and I had included a kudo to Rosen for starting the AFMTE. I’ll repeat that here, along with an additional word of thanks for all he has contributed to the massage therapy profession. It’s been a job well done.

Rosen shared with me that he is leaving the door open to future teaching, writing and consulting projects that can continue to advance the field. I’m curious to see what he gets into next!